Top 5 Lessons on how Wake Forest Won a Bulldog Award for Best Online Newsroom

Top 5 Lessons on how Wake Forest Won a Bulldog Award for Best Online Newsroom Top 5 Lessons on how Wake Forest Won a Bulldog Award for Best Online Newsroom

December 10, 20195 min read
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“The primary goal of redesigning our online newsroom has been to help journalists covering Wake Forest do their jobs quicker, easier and better.”

– Katie Neal, Executive Director, News and Communications


In late 2015, the Communications & External Relations group at Wake Forest University embarked on an ambitious goal: “Tell Wake Forest stories and create a positive experience for news media by providing them as much content, access and support as possible.”


Being in the midst of a $1 billion capital campaign, Wake Forest realized that the newsroom was a pivotal tool for helping shape the perception of the university to key audiences. Facing the challenge of dealing with an old newsroom, packaged in a way which made it frustrating for journalists to access the information they needed, the news team was tasked with creating a new and improved visually-compelling, mobile responsive and easy-to-navigate online newsroom.


The news team was guided by two goals to address their primary audience of journalists:


  • Give journalists what they want. Help them find the information they need to do their jobs easily and quickly.
  • Make it easy for anyone to share Wake Forest news.


And, to achieve these goals, they implemented their strategy which focused on four areas of emphasis:


  • Offer a useful combination of newsworthy content, facts and resources.
  • Showcase visual storytelling capabilities with multimedia options and a flexible web design.
  • Establish a best-in-class expert guide. Prominently feature experts on trending topics and breaking news.
  • Provide easy ways to share news stories, expert pitches, photos and videos to increase visibility on social media while reinforcing the brand.


Since the launch of the Wake Forest newsroom in the spring of 2016, they have achieved notable success. They have seen a significant increase in media coverage stemming from their expert pitch efforts, they’ve had a positive social impact in their local community, and they’ve noticed an increase in content consumption. Just last month, Wake Forest was recognized for these efforts by winning the bronze Bulldog Award from the Bulldog Reporterfor “Best Online Newsroom of the Year.” The panel of judges was comprised of working and award-winning journalists, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, and represented a number of different media outlets including The Washington Post, USA Today, Forbes and The Oregonian.


So what can we learn from Wake Forest? Here are the Top 5 lessons on how they made their newsroom stand out above the rest.



1. They Wrote Stories for Journalists


Instead of taking a reactive approach to getting their experts in the media, the team at Wake Forest opted to be more proactive in getting their experts noticed. This meant presenting relevant news items, story ideas and expert pitches in a central and very visible location. They called it “Headlines”.



Realizing that some stories needed a longer shelf life, the news team created the Headlines section to help journalists by providing storyline options. Here, journalists have a picklist of potential stories, a recommended angle and relevant Wake Forest experts who can comment. It’s a one-stop-shop for journalists.


Even more, with Headlines, Wake Forest is getting the added advantage of telling their stories.


How are you helping with getting your stories out there?



2. They Brought their Experts Forward


With leading researchers ready to comment on a range of newsworthy topics – including the unprecedented U.S. election cycle – the news team brought their experts to the forefront by putting them on display in multiple locations of the newsroom.


Using ExpertFile’s REST API, Wake Forest was able to extend its expert content on multiple pages, while still having the ability to manage that content from one central dashboard location.


This has allowed the news team to be more proactive in updating expert content, capture key engagement metrics and respond to potential opportunities in a timely manner. For instance, the team created a special portal in their newsroom to direct journalists to the best experts that could speak on the election.



From The New York Times to NPR’s “All Things Considered,” more than three dozen Wake Forest faculty shared their election-related expertise with top-tier news outlets around the world. Wake Forest professors had more than 1,300 media mentions for expert commentary alone, with the potential to reach more than 2 billion people.


What is your organization doing to bring your people forward?



3. They Provided a Clear Path of Communication


You’d be hard-pressed to find a page that didn’t provide some sort of contact method in the Wake Forest newsroom. Between having the news team’s contact email and phone number available on every page, and multiple contact buttons on the expert profiles, a journalist would have no problem finding the best method of reaching out.




It’s important to present a clear path of communication between the journalist and the institution. Safe to say, journalists tend to be very busy and often time constrained. So, if they don’t find what they’re looking for right away, to put it in the words of Jay-Z, on to the next one.


How are you making it easier for journalists to reach you and your communications group?



4. They Made it Easy to Find the Best Person


Katie Neal once said it best, “We’re not under the delusion that media wake up and think they should go to Wake Forest first when they are looking for experts.” For the Wake Forest team, providing multiple avenues for experts to be discovered was a major objective.


And, where do media look first for experts? Google.


“We’re not under the delusion that media wake up and think they should go to Wake Forest first when they are looking for experts.”


Google likes good content. Enhancing the discoverability of Wake Forest’s expert content on the world’s most commonly used search engine, is one of the best ways to attract media.


However, the Wake Forest News and Communications team didn’t stop there. They added easy search functions to their pages.


How are you ensuring your experts’ discoverability?



5. They Didn’t Limit Themselves to the Newsroom


It’s important to think outside the box. Wake Forest exemplified this by extending their reach beyond the newsroom.


Through syndicating expert content on different networks (ExpertFile.com) and promoting with various social platforms (Twitter), Wake Forest was able to access a much wider audience.


Remember, distribution can take you from good to great.



How are you thinking outside of your website?


So, there you have it. By following these lessons learned from Wake Forest University, you too can begin to engage with media more proactively. To summarize, the key questions to ask yourself when creating a newsroom to engage with media are:


  • How am I putting my stories in front of media?
  • How am I currently presenting my media experts on my website?
  • How am I making it easier for media to contact me and my team?
  • How am I enhancing my experts’ discoverability?
  • How am I extending beyond the reach of my website?





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  • Peter Evans
    Peter Evans Co-Founder & CEO

    Recognized speaker on expertise marketing, technology and innovation

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